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Coal terminal supporters, foes hash it out at forum

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The 30-second video showed a train tipping thousands of tons of coal at a station, while a series of hoses sprayed water to tamp down dust. It's the same system that Millennium Bulk Terminals will use at its proposed West Longview coal terminal to limit air pollution from coal dust, Ken Miller, the company's CEO, told about 300 people at the Cowlitz Expo Center on Thursday night.

However, opponents of the terminal countered that's not good enough.

Millennium, which already has a credibility problem, will never be able to prevent coal dust from wafting from the giant piles, opponents contend.

"Coal dust is a problem at every coal terminal in the country. We just figure there isn't any way they can control all of it," said Dan Serres, conservation director for Portland-based Columbia Riverkeeper.

Promises and credibility were at the core of contention about the proposed terminal, which was the subject of a League of Women Voters forum that lasted nearly two hours.

Dozens of Millennium supporters, including many union members, wore stickers that read "I Support Jobs." Opponents of the terminal, which included some residents who live in the neighborhood of the proposed facility, sported red buttons with the word "Coal" crossed out.

Despite the heated debate that has taken place over the plant for most of the year, the forum remained civil.

But there were pointed jabs at the company's honesty. "To be blunt, they lied. They lied to the public, they lied to the (Cowlitz County) commission, they lied to the Department of Ecology. We have an issue of trust," Serres told the audience.

He was referring to revelations that documents released this spring revealed that Millennium's parent company discussed plans to expand the terminal to up to 60 tons — 12 times larger than the amount permitted by Cowlitz County commissioners. Amidst public outcry, Millennium withdrew its permit application but plans to resubmit next year.

A larger terminal could also cause a traffic headache in Longview for drivers waiting at Industrial Way and Third Avenue for mile-long coal trains to pass, Serres said. Millennium officials said they are working with local government and rail officials to expand rail lines to relieve congestion.

Millennium bought the building and equipment on the site this spring from Chinook Ventures for $10.9 million. The land itself is owned by Pennsylvania-based Alcoa, which is developing a cleanup plan for soil and groundwater contamination from decades of aluminum smelting by Reynolds.

Millennium is leading the cleanup effort, though environmentalists say Alcoa should hire a cleanup company and not a coal firm. Miller said the cleanup takes priority.

"We let our actions speak for us. We have an obligation for cleanup, and that's going to happen," Miller said.

He added that the company would hire locally to build and operate the terminal.

"It is our intent to hire local workers and local contractors to build this facility," Miller said.


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